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Trend Alert: Cork as More than Bulletin Board and Bottle Stopper


Trend Alert: Cork as More than Bulletin Board and Bottle Stopper

November 10, 2022

Cork is the kale of building materials: an old familiar that has far more to offer than most of us realize. The real thing is a renewable material: it’s the bark of the cork oak tree which, when stripped, grows back again and again without harming the tree. Among its selling points: cork is light but durable; resistant to mold, mildew, termites, and fire (it will only melt or ignite if exposed to extremely high temperatures); and an excellent natural form of insulation. It’s also waterproof, an effective sound absorber, and recyclable—the nonprofit Cork Forest Conservation Alliance has a wine cork collection program in markets and wine stores across the country (go to corkforest.org to find the nearest drop box).

Many of cork’s applications, including as flooring, shoe soles, and cork boards, are tried and true. But there’s more: in the rush to find eco-friendly building materials, cork is being put to all sorts of new uses, as household goods as well as indoor/outdoor cladding and insulation. Here, a look at cork at work.

Furniture and Accessories

london designer matilda goad has just introduced a cork collection that include 17
Above: London designer Matilda Goad has just introduced a cork collection that includes this Ball Lamp, $360.

Most cork comes from Portugal, Spain, and parts of the Mediterranean, where cork trees thrive. For harvesting to be sustainable, the tree has to be at least 25 years old. Generally gaps of nine years are required between strippings—trees can live for 300 years—and special techniques are used to enable regrowth: the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance likens it to shearing sheep.

a cork bowl with handles, \$63, by melanie abrantes design of oakland, ca. & 18
Above: A Cork Bowl with Handles, $63, by Melanie Abrantes Design of Oakland, CA. “Cork is naturally antimicrobial and hypo-allergenic, making it an ideal material for food,” writes Abrantes, who also makes lathed cork vases, planters, candlesticks, canisters, and wine coolers, all finished with beeswax.

See more of Abrantes’s work in our post Miracle Cork.

jasper morrison designed his influential five piece cork family in \2004. produ 19
Above: Jasper Morrison designed his influential five-piece Cork Family in 2004. Produced by Vitra of untreated cork, the pieces have a velvety surface and work equally well as stools and side tables, $695 each.
the isla cork planter and desk tidy is \$36.\25 from mind the cork on etsy. 20
Above: The Isla Cork Planter and Desk Tidy is $36.25 from Mind The Cork on Etsy.
the clover side table, shown here in natural, \$3,075, is part of a new cork co 21
Above: The Clover Side Table, shown here in natural, $3,075, is part of a new cork collection made by Grain, Chelsea and James Minola’s Bainbridge Island studio dedicated to environmental and socially responsible design. See their 1901 craftsman-style farmhouse in our post The New Homesteaders.
the slice cork ceiling lamp by portuguese produce designer miguel soeiro is &#x 22
Above: The Slice Cork Ceiling Lamp by Portuguese produce designer Miguel Soeiro is €140 from his online store, OWN.
muratto cork natural wallpaper is \$350 for a 90 tile (\20.4 square feet) set a 23
Above: Muratto Cork Natural Wallpaper is $350 for a 90-tile (20.4 square feet) set at West-Elm. The tiles are 100-percent natural cork with peel and stick backs. They’re shown here in natural; brown, gray, and white are also available.
4\2 birds makes yoga mats and accessories of \100 percent recycled cork. its co 24
Above: 42 Birds makes yoga mats and accessories of 100-percent recycled cork. Its Cork Lightweight Yoga Mat and Two-Block Bundle is $105. Cork Massage Therapy Balls are $36, but currently sold out.
studio corkinho&#8\2\17;s daybed, €4,500, is &#8\2\20;a metaphor 25
Above: Studio Corkinho’s Daybed, €4,500, is “a metaphor for a nap under a tree.” The Antwerp atelier specializes in working in patinated burned cork and has a limited-editions collection that ranges from small plates and diffuser sets to tatami mats and tea tables.


the cork house is nimtim architects&#8\2\17; victorian terrace house extens 26
Above: The Cork House is Nimtim Architects’ Victorian terrace house extension clad externally and internally with naturally stained cork. “The cork achieves all required U-values without the need for any additional expanded foam insulation,” they note. “It absorbs noise internally, is breathable, free from synthetic resins, chemicals, or carcinogenic materials, and fully compostable.” Photograph by Michael Frank courtesy of @nimtimarchitects.

Go to Playfulness and Plywood to see a kitchen by the emerging firm run by Nimi Attanayake and Tim O’Callaghan.

the cork house in eton, england, designed by matthew barnett howland with dido  27
Above: The Cork House in Eton, England, designed by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, is composed almost entirely from load-bearing cork—”a radically simple form of plant-based construction,” say the architects. It’s receiving many awards, including the 2019 RIBA South Sustainability Award and was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize.
tigin, a diy tiny house with exposed cork insulation, is the creation of common 28
Above: Tigin, a DIY tiny house with exposed cork insulation, is the creation of Common Knowledge, an Irish social enterprise devoted to teaching environmentally friendly building skills. Read about it in A Community Built Mobile Home. Photography by Shantanu Starick.
in devon, england, architect thomas randall page converted a \250 square meter  29
Above: In Devon, England, architect Thomas Randall-Page converted a 250-square-meter barn into a combination work space and archive for his father, sculptor Peter Randall-Page. A freestanding, cork-wrapped room within a room serves as the studio and the project’s nerve center. Photograph by Jim Stephenson via Dezeen.

Read about natural building materials on the rise in our new book, Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home.

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Frequently asked questions

What is cork?

Cork is a natural, renewable, and sustainable material obtained from the bark of cork oak trees.

Is cork eco-friendly?

Yes, cork is a highly eco-friendly material as it is renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable. It is also harvested without harming the trees.

What are some uses of cork in the home?

Cork can be used in various ways in the home including flooring, wall coverings, furniture, decorative items, and insulation.

What are the benefits of using cork flooring?

Cork flooring is durable, comfortable, and has natural thermal and acoustic insulation properties. It is also non-toxic and easy to maintain.

Can cork be used in the bathroom?

Yes, cork is water-resistant and can be used in the bathroom for flooring, wall coverings, and even shower tiles.

Is cork flooring expensive?

Cork flooring can be more expensive than some other flooring options, but it is often considered a long-term investment as it can last for decades and provides many benefits.

Is cork furniture durable?

Yes, cork furniture is durable and can last for many years. It is also lightweight and resistant to scratches and stains.

Can cork be used as insulation?

Yes, cork is a great natural insulation material as it is lightweight, non-toxic, and has excellent thermal and acoustic insulation properties.

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